Gamonéu (or Gamonedo) is a slightly smoked fatty cheese that originated centuries ago in the homonymous area in the county of Cangas de Onís, in Picos, Eastern Asturias. It is produced from a blend of raw cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk and it is slightly spicy, with a crumbly texture and a subtle hazelnut aftertaste. This hard or semi-hard cheese has visible greenish-blue Penicillium close to the edges and its PDO comprises the counties of Cangas de Onís and Onís, both in Picos. This cheese represents like no other the essence of Asturias.
María del Mar Crespo, a member of the family who runs Vega Ceñal Dairy, says that ‘now after getting the PDO more cheese is produced, before it looked as if the cheese was deemed to disappear’. As a matter of fact, she is quite right since last year the production of this cheese, whose future was once feared to be threatened, went up 9%.
This cheese was awarded PDO status in 2007, but its tradition goes centuries ago. Furthermore, there are 17th Century documents addressed to King Felipe IV that cited this cheese as the sustenance “of the county’s poorest”. The cheese is a product of the traditional local transhumance. The families who settled seasonally in the high mountains with their livestock looked for ways to keep the excess milk edible throughout the year. Cheese and butter was the answer.
María del Mar has been working in the dairy for as far as she can remember and theirs is one of the nineteen PDO registered dairies that produce this unique cheese. At Vega Ceñal they raise their own animals and so the environmental footprint of their business is minimal as milk doesn’t need to be transported from afar. It all happens in the valley, in Gamonéu.
There are two types of Gamonéu cheese, ‘Del Valle’ (from the valley) and ‘Del Puertu’ (from the mountains).
Gamonéu del Valle is made in the lower mountains, in the valley, all year round. This variety makes 96% of the total PDO production. Many of the producers have cleverly managed to recreate in their dairies the humidity and temperature conditions of the traditional limestone caves where all the cheeses used to be aged. In this way they are adapting their productions to health and safety EU regulations without compromising on their cheeses’ essence or quality.
According to María del Mar, their peak production is thirty kilos a day and they are busiest in springtime. They make the cheese every other day and the production method is regulated by the PDO.
As she explains, the first step of the production is milking the animals. Then the three types of milk (cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s) are blended and warmed up, the curdling agent is added and the blend is left to set for 2 to 5 days. Then they are moulded and salted. After two or three days the cheese is smoked for at least 15 to 20 days and it’s also dried for two weeks. Then the cheese is taken to the caves –in the case of the Gamonéu del Valle the caves are usually recreated in their dairies- where it has to be for at least a month.
At Vega Ceñal their cheeses are produced from the three types of milk and the percentages are roughly as follows: 25% goat’s, 25% sheep’s and 50% cows’ milk. The family has been in the business for generations and they have upgraded their Dairy in 2009 to the highest standards. If you feel you have to see where their magic happens –trust me, you won’t regret it- they offer guided Dairy tours every Saturday. Bookings on: +34 659 989 198.
On the other hand, Gamonéu del Puertu is one of the most exquisite and unique cheeses in the world. It is a seasonal cheese -only made in the summer months (June to September)- currently produced by only four cheese makers.
What is really exceptional about this cheese is that it is handmade in the tiny cabins in the high mountains (known as Puertu) in Picos, where the producers spend the summer months. Then it is matured in secret caves in the same area. The milk comes from animals that graze solely in the meadows up in the very same mountains in Picos. While up there, the cows, goats and sheep are out in the open, with no shelter whatsoever. Given the characteristics of the terrain, rough and accessible only on foot, carrying food for the animals isn’t an option and they are obviously grass-fed.
Furthermore, because Picos is a National Park, it is environmentally protected by law and building is forbidden –including stables or barns- thus the animals are in the outdoors at all times. One could say that Gamonéu del Puertu is basically a high mountain affair.
Last year the production of Gamonéu del Puertu was 3,961 kg, just 4% of the total Gamonéu PDO production (Del Valle, produced throughout the year in the valley, makes 96% of the total). Moreover, the first Gamonéu del Puertu pieces of the season went for 38€/kg. If you want to try this exclusive variety, make sure you visit Asturias in October. Usually the first pieces are sold at Regional Fairs in October; the most popular is likely the annual Picos de Europa Cheese Fair –celebrating its 76th edition this year-.
Quesería “Vega Ceñal”
Gamonéu de Cangas
Cangas de Onís
+34 626 444 003
+34 659 989 198